Denzel Burke is the 22-year-old Director of R.E.A.L (Rising. Elevating. And Leadership) Youth Initiative, a youth program that deters young people from the streets through mentorship and training. Born and raised in Chicago, Denzel has overcome incarceration as a juvenile and the loss of friends and family to gun violence, and is on a mission to help young people reach their full potential. His journey began while inside a co-ed juvenile facility. Currently Denzel is a re-entry coach for young people coming home and assists at Circles and Ciphers with peace circles. Denzel is also a Community Engagement Specialist for the Moran Centers project, Evanston’s Restorative Justice Community Court where Denzel facilitates community discussion.
Monica Cosby is a mom and grandma, activist, organizer, restorative justice and peace circle keeper, poet, person of the theater, and a lover of books, music, cats, dogs, and the earth. Her life and work have been shaped and informed by the communities she has belonged to, including the community of artists, scholars, and mothers with whom she was incarcerated for twenty years and whose survival was and is an act of resistance against a system that would dispose of them. Monica is Founder and Creative Director of Acting OutSide, a newly formed performance art crew.
Sharlyn Grace (she/her) is a founding member of Chicago Community Bond Fund and served as CCBF’s first Executive Director until early 2021. Before joining CCBF full-time, she was the Senior Criminal Justice Policy Analyst at Chicago Appleseed. In those roles, Sharlyn was part of launching and helping lead the Coalition to End Money Bond in 2016 and the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice in 2019. In 2021, their joint five-year-long, statewide legislative campaign culminated in the passage of the Pretrial Fairness Act, which will make Illinois the first state to completely eliminate money bail. Outside of work, Sharlyn has provided legal and organizing support for grassroots movements in Chicago since 2012.
Pablo Mendoza is a proud father, social justice advocate, and lifelong learner who is currently finishing his undergraduate degree at Northeastern Illinois University with an eye towards graduate school. His lifelong goal is equity. Acknowledging that he will not live to see such a world, he strives to lay its foundation.
Akeem Soyan is a multi-disciplinary artist from the North Side of Chicago. Currently, he is also Co-Executive Director at Circles & Ciphers. He started attending Circles & Ciphers in search of community back in 2015 after dropping out of school to pursue music. Inevitably, he helped create peace circles that fuse hip-hop and restorative justice elements for young people in Rogers Park and at St. Charles Youth Jail. It was through his love of art and people that he developed a critical role in the work of serving young people and building solidarity within his own community.
VAM STUDIO is an award-winning production company and film collective behind some of the most disruptive narratives, commercials, and branded content in culture today. VAM is an unapologetic, diverse team of filmmakers working from a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, and disciplines while standing out on a global scale.
The VAM STUDIO team includes filmmakers and writers Sam Bailey, Fatimah Asghar, Jordan Phelps and founder Vincent Martell.
Meredith Nnoka, the Envisioning Justice Fellow at Illinois Humanities, is a Chicago-based writer, educator, and social justice advocate originally from Southern Maryland. She studied the intersecting histories of Black expressive arts and social movements at Smith College for her BA and later the University of Wisconsin-Madison for her MA, where she first considered the questions now central to her work: What is the power in bearing witness, and how can controlling our own narratives be used toward liberation?